Thursday 17 March 2016

How to appear stupid

An abiding, and betimes perplexing, feature of Scotland's constitutional debate has been the willingness - even eagerness - of unionist commentators to make absolute fools of themselves in the name of defending the ruling elites of the British state. It is an aspect of the British nationalist mindset that is perhaps even more noteworthy than the well-documented facility with lies, or the clumsy ease with which they stumble into obvious fallacies. The proverbial dispassionate observer would have little alternative but to rate the British establishment's propagandists an uncommonly dense breed.

We are obliged to Fraser Nelson for providing us with a telling illustration of this point. Credit where it is due, there is a certain grandeur in the scale and scope of the stupidity on display in this article.

I don't mean just the drivel about North Sea revenues being the "bounty of gold that would be lavished on an independent Scotland". That is little more than the standard dishonest misrepresentation of the SNP's position that one might expect to find in any example of a British journalist sacrificing professional reputation and intellectual rigour to the exigencies of ideological unionism. The pages of the British press are daily littered with such distortions. This alone is hardly enough to set Fraser Nelson apart from the rank and file of British nationalist foolishness.

But we must add to the foregoing the childishly naive fallacy of believing that the UK Government's 'rescue' of the oil industry is motivated by some form of altruism - either towards the industry or, even more unbelievably, towards Scotland - rather than the expectation of a future quid pro quo. By Fraser Nelson's account, the oil sector is being propped up by a benign and beneficent British state out of paternalistic concern for workers and for the Scottish economy. The way he tells the tale, it has nothing whatever to do with the fact that oil companies are investing at record levels in exploration and in new extraction technology in a way that can only suggest anticipation of a new 'oil boom' on the horizon.

The patent puerility of this is perfectly in keeping with another characteristic of unionist argumentation that Fraser Nelson brings into play and attempts to raise to the level of art - the glaring contradiction and/or inconsistency. Note how, having gone to some effort to demonstrate how volatile is the price of oil and, therefore, oil revenues, he then proceeds to argue as if the current low price is permanent. Conveniently, the price of oil is simultaneously subject to massive movements AND fixed at the level which best suits his case. It's a wonderful world when you get to make it up as you go along!

Which brings me to the gobbet of folly that makes Mr Nelson's little offering stand out even in the catalogue of inanity that is hard-line unionist commentary. It seems that, by some 'idiosyncratic' logic, we are to take the wild - almost manic - fluctuations in oil revenue forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) as proof of the reliability of those forecasts. The fact that these erratic oscillations may occasionally have coincided with reality is held to be evidence of the OBR's impressive perspicacity and Delphic prescience.

In a final twist to the tail of ordinary sense, the roulette-wheel randomness of the OBR's guessing game is compared with the fixed point projection offered by the Scottish Government during the first referendum campaign. It's as if Alex Salmond got to roll the dice once and is stuck with the result for all eternity, while the OBR is allowed to roll the dice as often as it likes, and only count the times it happens to be right.

It may be that Fraser Nelson is not an idiot. But he certainly puts on a remarkably convincing act. And if he isn't an idiot, then he obviously thinks the rest of us are.

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